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[chox] Bolivien und die Achillesferse der neuen sozialen Bewegungen

An die laufende Diskussion über das ASF habe ich mich erinnert gefühlt,
als ich den folgenden Bericht über Bolivien las:
"For a hammer(er) everything looks like a nail"


  Jim Schultz

Bolivia is once again in a state of political crisis.  Since mid-September,
a wave of protest has spread across the country demanding government action
on a variety of issues - the main one suspension of a proposed mega-deal to
sell Bolivian natural gas to California.

Nearly 40 people have been killed in clashes with the government near
the capital city of La Paz.  Over the weekend these clashes have escalated
as the government sent soldiers and tanks into the streets in an attempt to
break-up blockades of the highways.  Monday afternoon President Gonzalo
Sànchez de Lozada announced a suspension of the deal until the end of the
year, but protests continue.  Rumors abound about his possible resignation,
or that he might make a declaration of martial law.


At the heart of Bolivia's current wave of protest is a proposed deal to
export a portion of the country's mammoth natural gas reserves to
California.  A consortium of companies known as Pacific LNG is seeking a
deal to ship the gas out of land-locked Bolivia through its Pacific coast
neighbor, Chile.

That proposal runs smack into a deep, century-old, national resentment over
Chile's seizure of Bolivia's last remaining access to the sea (in 1879).
School children here are still taught that the nation must reclaim its

Even if the gas were piped to the Pacific some way other than Chile, polls
say a majority of Bolivians would still oppose the gas deal with
California.  The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and others claim that
the sale would be a cash boon for a country that really could use one.  But
average Bolivians aren't buying the argument that those benefits will ever
trickle down to them.

"The money will all just end up in the pockets of the President, the
ministers and other politicians", says Lourdes Netz, a former Roman
Catholic nun.  "Look at all the public companies that have been privatized.
Have the people benefited?"

Bolivia's political system is notoriously corrupt  (Transparency
International rates it among the most dishonest in Latin America).  When
local corruption meets big international conglomerates looking for a way to
pipe away natural resources at rock-bottom prices, the result is usually a
sweetheart deal that leaves the dealmakers happy and the public left in the

Many people here say, "First let's get a political system that we believe
will actually sell the gas in the people's interests, then we can sell the


Bolivia's "gas war" bears many similarities to the now-famous sweetheart
deal three years ago in which the California-based engineering giant,
Bechtel, was given control of the water system of Bolivia's third largest
city, Cochabamba.  Within weeks of taking control of the city's water,
Bechtel hit poor families with huge increases in their water bills, enough
to spark a popular rebellion and chase Bechtel out of the country.

In their closed-door negotiations with the Bolivian government, Bechtel
officials were no doubt given reassurance that the government could handle
any protests that might erupt.  To defend Bechtel's contract the Bolivian
government imposed a state of martial law and fired live rounds at its own
people.  Yet not even that was enough to make Bechtel's Bolivian deal

Pacific LNG seems intent to follow in Bechtel's footsteps, having tanks
sent out in their favor even before the first pipe is laid in the ground.
However, the corporations eager to be the multi-billion dollar gas link
between Bolivia and California might want to reflect a bit on whether they
want to really follow Bechtel's lead.  However clear the words may be on
paper, an agreement with the Bolivian government on gas won't mean very
much if it faces widespread public opposition.


One of the best ways to understand Bolivia is to think of South Africa in
the last days of Apartheid in the early 1990s (a place where I also had the
opportunity to work).  In Bolivia the vast majority is unbelievably poor,
mostly Indian, and struggles for basic survival.  The country is run,
however, both politically and economically, by a tiny, wealthy elite that
seems mostly intent on protecting its privileges.  One Bolivia lives in
adobe houses without running water.  The other vacations at Disney World.

This conflict erupts periodically in violent clashes as labor groups, coca
farmers, teachers, university students and other sectors take to the
streets to protest government policies.  Bolivia's last serious eruption of
protest, which left 33 people dead, was in February, over the government's
implementation of an IMF-pressured economic belt-tightening package.

The pattern repeats itself over and over again.  Social movements make
demands and the  government ignores them.  Those movements then take to the
streets and the government sends in police and soldiers.  Eventually people
get killed and the Catholic Church persuades the government and movement
leaders to sit down for talks.  The government makes a series of promises,
which it then breaks, and the cycle begins once more.

While Bolivia's social movements enjoy broad public support for their
demands - a fair deal or no deal on gas, opposition to privatization, etc.
- the non-protesting majority is growing weary of their tactics.  As the
old saying goes, "When you have a hammer everything looks like a nail."  In
Bolivia, every protest seems to turn into highway blockades and other
disruptions that hurt the poor more than anyone else.  Unfortunately, it
seems that massive disruption is the only language that Bolivian political
leaders can hear.

If Pacific LNG follows Bechtel's path - watching on CNN as Bolivia falls
into bloody chaos on its behalf - its dreams of a California gas deal will
also fall into chaos and its public reputation, deservedly, will pay a
heavy toll.  Instead, it should tell the Bolivian government to put away
its tanks and tell the Bolivian people that it wants to make a deal worthy
of broad public support.  Consumer groups in California ought to push them
to do just that.

Jim Shultz
The Democracy Center

Av. Ecuador 2519
Tel y Fax 591 2 2417[PHONE NUMBER REMOVED] 2 2417057
funsolon funsolon.org


[English translation]
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